Based on last season’s results, Hibernian had a fairly up and down season under Lee Johnson’s leadership - do you think the former Bristol City and Sunderland boss will be able to improve upon last season?
Patrick McPartlin: Since he first came into the club Lee Johnson has stressed that it will take time to turn things around for Hibs - he’s mentioned needing potentially as many as four or five transfer windows to get in players capable of playing the way he wants to play, and has on more than one occasion referred to Hibs as a ‘fixer-upper’. One thing managers don’t tend to get in modern football is time to make a difference and I think Johnson is quite keen to be afforded the chance and time to build something at Hibs, and I think that’s what he’s trying to do.
Last season Hibs finished fifth in the table - after ending the 2021/22 campaign in eighth place - and narrowly missed out on fourth, while not being a million miles away from third but they also fell at the first hurdle in both domestic cups. He has already gone further in the League Cup, reaching the quarter-finals, and while the Scottish Cup doesn’t come around until midway through the season, the club’s aim will be to finish third or fourth and go deep in both cups which is the same every season.
Hibs have had a bad start to the league season with two defeats in two games, but with 36 matches left, there’s still time to turn things around and we should see in the next few league games if Hibs have a bit more about them this term. Injuries have played a part again and I’d imagine there may still be some transfer business to be done so it feels a little early to make any cast-iron predictions, but I imagine the aim is to improve on last season in all three domestic competitions as an absolute minimum.
Hibs began their season in late July thanks to the start of Europa Conference League’s second qualifying round - how do you think that will affect Johnson’s side throughout the season?
PM: A lot depends on how the Aston Villa tie goes. If Hibs reach the group stages then they may find it hard competing on the European and domestic front, but if Villa prevail from the play-off then I don’t think Hibs’ season will have been affected too much. The side has been inconsistent under Johnson to the extent that they might well have lost their opening two games even without European football as a distraction.
With the Europa Conference League games, the main issue has been travel time and recovery time for players with injuries or who are coming back from injury and if Hibs are beaten by Villa then that will be less of an issue. But again, we won’t know until we’ve seen more league matches if fatigue is playing a part. Ultimately these are professional footballers who are conditioned to deal with this sort of game load. And having managed extensively in England, Johnson will be used to playing three games in a week and should know how to cope with the extra workload the players are facing.
Hibernian have been busy during the current transfer window, do you expect more incomings and outgoings throughout the final stretch of the window?
PM: I do. The club hierarchy have hinted at further incomings beyond the signings already made and I think it’s clear to see that there are still one or two areas needing a bit of work before the window closes. I reckon there’s a chance that one or two players may leave on loan as well, but a lot could depend on who the club is able to bring in as well.
John McGinn is obviously a major talking point and common interest amongst Hibs and Aston Villa fans - what sort of reception do you think he’ll receive at Easter Road?
PM: John McGinn was a particular favourite with the Hibs fans during his three seasons with the club, partly because he was part of the team that won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years as well as being part of the team that won promotion back to the Scottish Premiership after three years in the second tier. But, and as Villa fans have seen over the past five years, he also endeared himself to the fans with his drive, determination, effort, and passion and his tendency to give 110 per cent no matter the competition or opposition. He’ll certainly be afforded a hero’s welcome by the Hibs support ahead of kick-off, but I think both the supporters and the player know that once the whistle goes he’s just another opposition player in a team Hibs are trying to beat.
Which eleven players do you think Lee Johnson will select to start against Villa?
PM: It’s difficult to say. Johnson has a tendency to spring a surprise with his team selection on occasion - he’s hinted that he’s picked an athletic and physical team, so I would imagine his starting XI might look something like… David Marshall, Lewis Miller, Will Fish, Paul Hanlon, Lewis Stevenson, Josh Campbell, Joe Newell, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Élie Youan, Dylan Vente, and Martin Boyle. But there are a handful of positions where he might do something different to try to spring a surprise.
Both sides will be eager to impress - what’s your score prediction for today’s match at Easter Road?
PM: I have a feeling Villa will win, but I’m not sure it will be resounding - something like 2-1 or 3-1, perhaps. But if Hibs score early it might make things interesting.